Severe weather wreaks havoc from Plains to Gulf Coast

Sunday, March 29th 2009, 9:12 am
By: News 9

(CNN) -- Mother Nature provided a little bit of everything in several parts of the country on Saturday.

Heavy winds wreaked havoc on a shopping center in central Tennessee, blowing out windows and damaging the roof, Murfreesboro police spokesman Kyle Evans told CNN Radio.

Glass storefronts at the Jackson Heights Shopping Center were blown out 100 to 150 yards into the parking lot, Evans said.

Evans said three people were treated for minor injuries from flying glass and metal.

Residents in northwest Murfreesboro lost power Saturday night and police warned residents to stay indoors until traffic caused by the incident cleared up.

Elsewhere, a blizzard dumped more than 2 feet of snow in parts of the Plains on Saturday. The blizzard cut power, stranding drivers and prompting governors in Kansas and Oklahoma to issue disaster declarations.

The heaviest snow and ice accumulated in south central and southwest Kansas. In Pratt County, 28 inches of snow fell, with snowdrifts reported up to 6 feet deep. At least nine other counties reported 2 feet of snow, the Kansas Adjutant General's office said.

About 17,000 customers in Kansas lost electricity, more than half of those in Sedgwick County.

The storm left some travelers stranded and in need of last-minute hotel accommodations, according to the front desk manager at the Econolodge in McPherson.

"We have two honeymoon suites open, but other than that we're fully booked. We normally have 84 rooms," iReporter Sally Kelley said.

The housekeepers who made it to work were all outside shoveling, but they struggled to keep up with the snow as it continued falling Saturday afternoon.

"We haven't had people getting mad at us. The people have been great but I think they're really frustrated."

The state Adjutant General's office said whiteout conditions and blowing snow made driving hazardous. The Kansas Department of Transportation shut down several roads in the western and south central part of the state. National Guard Humvees were used to move medical personal and patients to a hospital in Seward County.

In Oklahoma, where more than a foot of snow fell, Gov. Brad Henry declared a state of emergency in 50 counties.

The state Department of Transportation had several roads blocked in the state and others remained impassable.

"The only people who can get out of their driveways have 4-wheel drive," said iReporter Mark Rennie of Alva, Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, rain along the Gulf Coast battered areas around Mobile, Alabama, and Biloxi, Mississippi.

Mobile County Emergency Management Director Walter Dickerson said 4 to 6 inches of rain fell on already saturated ground.

Fifteen to 20 roads around Mobile were closed, and several people had to be rescued after flash flooding trapped their cars.

In Mobile, heavy rains caused a section of roadway to collapse. Three cars ended up in a large sinkhole, including one vehicle that landed on top of another. No serious injuries were reported.

Dickerson said a temporary shelter may be opened for residents displaced by the high waters.

In nearby Baldwin County, Alabama, an apartment complex was evacuated and some main roads were closed.

The main roadway leading into Biloxi, the Interstate 10 loop, was closed for several hours early Saturday before waters receded and allowed traffic to resume. But more than a dozen other roads around Harrison County remained blocked.

Roads were also impassable in some parts of the Florida Panhandle. Officials in the Atlanta, Georgia, metro area, which was under flood watches and warnings, were keeping an eye on surging rivers and creeks.